Wednesday 19 September 2018

Uber admits decision not to renew licence in London over safety concerns was correct

Photo: PA
Photo: PA

Sam Blewett

Uber has admitted the decision not to renew its licence in London over safety concerns was correct, as the taxi-hailing app appealed to get it restored.

The firm conceded a string of failings on Monday, agreeing with Transport for London's (TfL) decision in September, but said the operating licence should be renewed as it has made "wholesale" reforms.

Uber's appeal hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court began on Monday after TfL made the move over concerns for public safety and security.

Tom Elvidge, general manager of Uber in the UK, said: "I agree that Uber London Limited (ULL) and Uber generally was undergoing a period of significant change and, in light of what was available to TfL given the mistakes that ULL made, I absolutely accept that decision in September."

He said the move "certainly accelerated" changes, which include telling the regulator when drivers get convictions or are removed from the app for other reasons.

Mr Elvidge said that among the failings before he took charge were Uber's lack of clarity over whether the company or drivers accepted passengers, which has implications for workers' rights.

He also said Greyball software, which can be used to skirt around regulations, was used in a way that was "fundamentally wrong". But the firm said this was not used in such a manner in the UK.

Online eye tests that relied on the honesty of would-be drivers were also "not a good idea", he said.

Martin Chamberlain QC, representing TfL, accused Uber of lacking transparency and of "drip feeding incriminating information to its regulator only when it's squeezed out".

Mr Elvidge replied: "I think it's certainly one of the interpretations.

"This was not good enough, it should've made multiple responses to further probing and further questioning to get to the ultimate response and that was wrong - that was inadequate."

Tom de la Mare QC, representing Uber, said the firm had taken the "unusual" stance of not opposing TfL's reasons for not renewing the licence and said it had "led to wholesale change" and a "clean break" in personnel in its London headquarters.

He argued TfL's last three inspections showed a "perfect record of compliance" and said three non-executive board members are now in place to ensure "total compliance to the letter and spirit" of regulatory obligations.

Other measures include proactively reporting serious incidents to the Metropolitan Police and changing the app so users are told Uber has accepted their booking and their driver is TfL-licensed.

Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot indicated an 18-month provisional licence Uber is requesting would be "too long" for her to grant.

The judge will rule whether Uber is "fit and proper" to hold a licence in the capital now, rather than whether TfL's decision was correct in September.

Uber can operate as normal during the appeal process, which could continue in higher courts if either party is not satisfied with the Westminster result.

The hearing, expected to last several days, continues.

Press Association

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business